Eastman employees make ear savers nurses call “lifesavers”

Heather Risney and Madi Ware are both nurses on the front lines of the medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Kingsport, Tenn., area. Facing uncertainty about what they or their patients may be exposed to, they have to wear surgical masks for 12 hours at a time.

“It’s hot, my face is breaking out, and the mask rides up into your eyes and tugs at your ears,” Heather says. “We had gotten to the point where we were using headbands and safety pins to try and make the masks more comfortable,” says Madi. A volunteer effort by Eastman team members in Information Technology is now giving Heather and Madi a little comfort during their day.

Ear savers are providing relief to workers who wear masks for
much of the day. The small plastic device latches the elastic
bands across the back of the head, rather than over the ears.
Madi Ware, a daughter of Eastman employee Greg Ware,
calls ear savers “lifesavers.”

Mark Ewing normally uses the 3D printer in his home to make odds and ends and toys for him and his son to enjoy. Lately though, Mark, digital corporate technology manager for Eastman, has been printing small but impactful accessories for nurses like Heather and Madi. “I saw a discussion in the 3D printing community about ear savers. I asked my friends in the medical community locally and knew there was a real opportunity to help people,” Mark says.

An ear saver is a small plastic device that latches the elastic bands of a mask across the back of the head, rather than over the ears. Medical professionals who use them love them. “I can’t say enough great things about them. They shouldn’t be called ear savers; they should be called lifesavers,” says Madi. “It also holds my mask tight so my glasses don’t fog up.”

“The ear savers definitely make it more tolerable to wear a mask all day long,” Heather says.

Using material he already had, Mark printed an initial batch of ear savers and shared them with Kingsport-area medical personnel. The reviews were glowing, and word spread about Mark’s effort. Mark shared his project on Microsoft Teams, and other Eastman co-workers stepped up to help. “I just thought it was an awesome idea,” says Brandon Burns, IT data architecture and governance manager. Brandon printed more than 150 ear savers for the cause.

“This was a great opportunity to help people on the front lines,” says Nicki Stinson, IT senior data architecture technical analyst. Nicki helped coordinate a delivery of 350 ear savers to Ballad Health in the Tri-Cities.

That was just the beginning. Mark started getting requests from other areas of the country like Florida, New York, Indiana and Michigan. He built a website (earsaverproject.com) over a weekend to help organize requests for ear savers and recruit other volunteers for printing. The Ear Saver Project now has printers in multiple states helping the effort. To date, Mark and the team have shipped more than 6,000 ear savers to organizations in 18 states.

“In this pandemic, there is a need for PPE to keep people on the front lines safe,” he says. “At the same time, those people are experiencing discomfort. Being able to alleviate that so that they can feel better at the end of the day – that’s going to make a big difference.”

Mark Ewing (Eastman IT) poses with some of the ear savers he and other
Eastman team members made with their home 3D printers.



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